Soon after moving to one of the most politically conservative cities in the country (Lubbock, Texas), Katharine Hayhoe guest taught in a colleague’s class. She walked through the science of the carbon cycle and then asked if anyone had any questions. One young man stood up and asked, “You’re a Democrat aren’t you?!” To which Hayhoe replied, “No, I’m Canadian.”
Katharine Hayhoe is one of the most publicly visible climate scientists, but her public activism is not political. She is not lobbying for the Green New Deal or trying to get you to vote for Democrats. She is simply trying to get us talking more about the climate crisis.
What should we talk about?
She doesn’t think we need to start by talking more about the science. We’ve been talking about that since the 1850s when scientists showed that burning coal puts a heat-trapping blanket around the Earth. Every president since Lyndon Johnson has been warned by scientists that this is happening, we’re causing it, and it’s going to be bad if we don’t do something about it. But for deep psychological reasons (and some superficial economic ones), that message has not gotten through.
Instead, Hayhoe says, we need to start by talking about our values, about what matters to us. For her, that means talking about faith. Hayhoe is a deeply committed Christian, claiming to belong to the very exclusive club (only 4 members) of climate scientists in North America who are married to pastors. Even in non-religious settings (like her TED Talk) she cites her faith as one of the reasons she’s so passionate about the climate crisis: God created this incredible planet and gave us responsibility over every living thing on it, and we are to care for and love the least fortunate among us. These are values all of us Christians share. They ought to bind us together on this important topic, even if we disagree about other things.
Once the topic of climate change has been connected to values people share, they will be more open to hearing the science and considering it with a more open mind. A fantastic resource for this is Hayhoe’s series of short videos where she explains many facets of climate change. Here are a few to start with:
- How do we know this climate change thing is even real?
- This is all just a part of a natural cycle, right?
- What’s the big deal with a few degrees?
Also check out Skeptical Science—a website that has lots of articles (many with basic, intermediate, and advanced versions) responding to common climate myths.
What can we do?
The science can be scary, and much of the news coverage about the climate tends toward the sensational. Unfortunately, fear and doomsday messaging is ineffective in changing people’s minds. What really helps is understanding the problem and being presented with hopeful and realistic solutions. Hayhoe says in her TED Talk that we need a vision of a better future, where everyone has the resources they need, and our lives are better than they are today.
There are practical, viable, and attractive solutions. In her video I’m just one person, what can I do?, Hayhoe gives lots of good first steps any of us can take. For example, change an old incandescent lightbulb for a new LED bulb. If everyone in America would just change one, that would be an equivalent impact to removing almost 800,000 cars from the road! Of course larger, more systemic changes are needed too, but don’t let that stop us from doing what we can right now.
We’re proud to call Katharine Hayhoe a friend of BioLogos. She has written for us before, and helped us a lot in preparing the suite of resources on the topic of creation care we’re giving this month. Spend some time getting to know her further in some of these resources:
- On the BioLogos website, find her short essay Christians and Climate Science: Moving Beyond Fear to Action and her response to the 2015 statement by the Pope, Why All Christians Should Heed Pope Francis’ Call to “Care for Our Common Home”
- Here is her TED talk on the most important thing we can do about climate change.
- She had a conversation with President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio at SXSL in 2016. Here is a video of that event.
- To see her graciousness in action, here she is responding to an angry climate denier.
- How often do scientists get to preach at a church? Here she is doing just that.
- Here is a full-length video lecture on how to be effective communicators on the topic of climate change.
At BioLogos, we hope to contribute positively to the church and to our culture, so that we might all understand correctly what science has to say and what God expects of us. And we want all of us to be hopeful that we can really make a difference in this generation. That kind of hope can be cultivated. It comes from hearing hopeful things. What stories are you hearing about the care of creation that give you hope? Share them with us at the comment thread on this article on the Forum.
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At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.